November 30, 2007

Face It: Bears Aren't Playoff Material

I am starting to get pretty annoyed with the local sports media in Chicago. In practically every report/story/commentary I encounter, they can't help but talk about the Bears changes at the playoffs. About how they need to win this game to keep the playoff hopes alive.

another dropped passDoes any regular fan of the team really expect the Bears to make the playoffs?

Do we want them to?

Honestly, I'm happy when the Bears win, but they haven't shown themselves to be a post-season caliber team. They haven't even won two regular season games in a row.

The Bears record is 5-6, which, when you look at the NFC Standings, technically means they are not mathematically out of the wild-card playoff hunt. But let's be realistic. The Bears next three games are against teams (NY Giants, Redskins, and Vikings) hungry for a wild-card spot and who have shown more consistency in their play than the Bears have. After that the Bears finish off the season against the Packers and Saints, neither of whom will just roll over for the Bears.

At best I think the Bears might sneak out 3-2 in those final games, putting their final record at 8-8. I fitting reflection of how the Bears have played this season, but not worthy of a playoff spot.

Sure the Bears could go on a tear, win the next 5 games straight, secure the wild-card, and roll into the playoffs as the hot NFC team. But again, let's be realistic, nobody who has watched more than two Bears games this season thinks this team is capable of that sort of feat.

The Bears aren't going to the playoffs. Let's get over it and just enjoy the final five games.

Wish I Had An Extra $700

American Express is running their My WishList promotion again this year. Every day they offer incredible deals to AMEX card holders (like myself) at specific times. Today's big deal: a 42' 1080p Plasma TV for only $700.

AMEX wishlist item for 11.30.2007
That's nice.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

I've been trying to catch this one on Turner Classic Movies for a long time.

movie poster for mr blandings builds his dream houseMr. Blandings Builds His Dream House stars the incomparable Cary Grant and the always enjoyable Myrna Loy as Jim and Muriel Blandings. They're New York City dwellers fed up with their cramped living quarters. Jim (Cary Grant) buys a home in Connecticut from a shady real estate agent and then realizes he's bought a dud. The Blandings go about trying to turn what they've bought into their dream home, but everything that could go wrong does with hilarious results.

If the plot sounds familiar, it's because the The Money Pit, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, is essentially a remake of this movie. The Money Pit is one of my all time favorite comedies, but I've really wanted to see the source material - as it were - for quite some time. Plus, Blandings stars Cary Grant, one of my all time favorite actors.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House will air tonight on the Turner Classic Movie channel at 7pm (central).

November 29, 2007

Campaign Poster Analysis

screen shot from sutton review of campaign postersWard Sutton provides an interesting analysis of political posters and campaign logos over at the New York Times.

He takes on both Democrat and Republican logos, and delivers a fairly balanced assessment of the logos he critiques. There seems to be very little political snarking coming from Sutton. You might want to infer Sutton's political leanings because he is an artist, published in the New York Times, and his comments on the Bush/Cheney poster from 2004 shown at right. But he takes the time to skewer the imagery used by both sides of the aisle in their campaigns.

In particular, I enjoyed the critique he leveled on the Fred Thompson poster. Sutton's comments on Thompson's poster reveal, in my opinion, how much the campaign poster can really be an extension of the candidates campaign - intended or not.

November 28, 2007

Joker Revealed

Last time Empire magazine featured a The Dark Knight story I wanted to check out I was too slow in finding a newsstand that carried the British magazine. This time I'm going to make a stronger effort to get out early and snatch me a copy of the January 2008 issue.

You can also get a look at Heath as the Joker here.

Plagiarism or Coincidence?

Gelf Magazine couldn't help but notice that a cartoon that ran in the November 26th issue of The New Yorker magazine looks strangely similar to a Far Side comic from 1984.

the original far side cartoonWhen questioned by Gelf, Bob Mankoff, the magazine’s cartoon editor defended the comic as original and not plagiarized.
Mankoff explains that the sheer volume of cartoons produced by artists means that there is often overlap of ideas. "Often in the same week different cartoonists will independently come up with identical ideas," he says. "Other times cartoonists generate ideas that have been previously published in the magazine. This is not plagiarism; rather it is the result of very creative people developing many ideas from a few well-established, well-traveled cartoon settings."
Gelf has both comics available on their site for you to review and judge.

I took a look at both. They are very similar, but I don't believe Lee Lorenz, the artist behind the new comic and a 74-year-old former art editor of The New Yorker, is stealing an idea from Gary Larson. I'm sure if we looked around hard enough we could find the same joke done elsewhere.

Interesting story though. And it reminded me that I have The Complete Far Side at home which I haven't cracked open in a while. I should do that soon.

November 27, 2007

All the Christmas Shows

The TV Zone blog has painstakingly compiled a list of all the airings of holiday-themed episodes of television shows.

It doesn't list the Christmas specials, like Rudolph or A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it does provide everything from Andy Griffith to Walker, Texas Ranger, with a little bit of Friends, Good Times, and 30 Rock thrown in for good measure.

Plan accordingly.

The TV Zone has plenty of updates and information about all the other Christmas specials, but for some reason they aren't adding those to this list of TV episodes.

Ha, Ha, Ha! Merry Christmas!

I don't buy into the "War on Christmas" crap any more than I support the thin-skins who get ruffled when people wish them a Merry Christmas during the month of December. Live and let live has always been a motto I subscribed to.

However, I had to chuckle when I read an editorial in yesterday's Chicago Tribune titled "Ha, ha, ha. Merry Christmas!"

Mostly the editorial board is responding to a story I read a week or so ago about a company that supplied shopping malls with Santas recommending that the pseudo-Santa's refrain from huffing a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho" because it might offend women.

It was a silly recommendation born out of a oversensitive mindset focused on being as inoffensive as possible in an extremely litigious age. I think the Trib, and others, are right to call the company on it. I also like the Trib's take on the attempts to stifle the Santa's Ho's and the whole Christmas controversy situation.

November 26, 2007

Joys of Homeownership

Our house is falling down around us.

For the last few months the knocking sound our refrigerator produces at the end of its run cycle has grown increasing louder and more menacing. About a week and a half ago I tried cleaning the underside of the appliance out really good, hoping that the machine was just a little stressed, not giving the last gasps of life.

our new refrigeratorBut when that didn’t work Heather called the local, family-run appliance repair shop that has helped us in the past with a busted oven and clothes dry hock-ups. They didn’t even have to come to the house. Over the phone they confirmed the diagnosis Heather and I both suspected, but dreaded: the fridge’s compressor was on its last legs. It could last two days, two weeks, or two months. Best to find yourself a new refrigerator now, they advised.

So that is what Heather and I did the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. While her visiting from Ohio parents watched Ian, Emma, and Zoe, Heather and I reviewed the selection of refrigerators at Sears. Why Sears? Every appliance we’ve bought from them in the past has worked exceptionally, and the service Sears has provided has always been reliable and professional. Plus, they were running a sale with no interest, no payments until January 2009 if we paid with our Sears card. Nice.

So figuring we had everything under control again (or at least the appearance of control), Heather and I enjoyed Thanksgiving with the knowledge that our new fridge would arrive on Monday and we wouldn’t have to pay for it until the United States has elected a new President.

Those good feelings were short lived, however. On Sunday we discovered a new problem.

To keep our energy bills low, we actively manage the thermostat in the house. Heather works the digital thermostat like a master pianist. She has the programming taking into consideration when we go to bed, when we wake up, when no one is in the house, even when the sun is shining the brightest and warming the house up. It works well. Heather is a little cold sometimes, but the rest of us are usually comfortable, and the bills are manageable.

So I was a little surprised Sunday morning when I went to put another layer on because I was feeling so cold. It was gray and cold day, but it was just around noon when the next cycle in the program would kick in to raise the temp in the house another 2 degrees. I should have felt comfortably warm.

its damn cold!Heather poked around the thermostat and the furnace while I untangled Christmas lights for outside until she started to wonder . . . ah, hell, she does a good job of explaining what happened on her blog. Go read it then come back here.

Net-net, it was a cold, cold night in the house. I usually only sleep in my boxer shorts, but last night even I wore some additional clothes to bed. When I woke up this morning it was a balmy 57 degrees.

The heating/cooling service dude has inspected things and the repair costs will be setting us back roughly $300. Certainly less expensive than replacing the whole furnace, but when you’ve just dropped $900 on a new refrigerator it makes the bank account whine. Hopefully the furnace is last surprise repair for a long time. We’ve got other household maintenance that needs to be addressed, and surprise items like this only push off when those needed items can be scheduled. Plus, one more home repair gotcha might mean Heather and I having to explain to the kids why Santa only brought them new underpants and bag of M&M’s for Christmas.

November 25, 2007

Devin Hester Beats the Denver Broncos

I caught a few minutes of the post-game press conferences with the Chicago Bears after their 37-34 overtime win against the Denver Broncos this evening. Coach Lovie Smith commented that he was very happy to have Devin Hester on his team.

Hester returning a kick-off for a touchdown
No shit, Sherlock. If it wasn't for Hester, the Bears would have lost that game today. Hester single-handedly kept the Bears in the game when their defense continued to let them down, wide receivers continued to drop perfectly thrown passes, and the offensive line continued to hurt the team with penalties.

Granted, Rex Grossman had a fairly lousy first half, but his second half was exceptional and he should leadership in moving the offense down the field to score two touchdowns with less than four minutes left in the game.

What infuriated me the most was the sloppy play of the O-line. Commentators keep calling that crew "experienced" and "veteran". I think better adjectives might be "old" and "slow". How else do you explain all the holding penalties this group had (one of which nullified a touchdown) or how much time Rex spent scrambling out of a collapsing pocket? They are a great group of guys, but I think a top priority this off-season is going to be bringing in fresh, young talent for the offensive line. Guys who can protect the passer and clear lanes for the running backs.

Berrian ties up the gameSo until you get your defense performing up to expectations, receivers to catch balls, and eliminate the costly penalties, you'd better be happy you've got Hester, because it's the only certain good thing that you've got right now.

Despite all the frustrations, it was an exciting game to watch. Most notably because Ian was watching with me from late in the third quarter on. He got excited when Hester ran back the kick-off for his second touchdown of the game, watched the Bears special teams block and recover a crucial punt attempt, and jumped up and down when Rex delivered a touchdown pass to the diving Bernard Berrian in the endzone to tie the game with seconds remaining. If nothing else, I think Ian got a good taste of just how exciting a football game can be - even if you are pulling for a 5-6 team.

The Dark Knight's Viral Marketing

I don't have time to hunt and check for this sort of stuff on my own, but luckily there are plenty of other people who do and post what they find.

screen grab of Gotham Times website after the secret Joker version of it is revealedThe Warner Brothers' marketing juggernaut is turning out a pretty large viral campaign for next summer's The Dark Knight. Since this past July's San Diego Comic-Con they have been launching mini-sites, staging events, and over all trying to build up interest in the movie by creating all sorts of non-traditional promotional pieces.

For instance, recently they have launched a number of new websites. A site for the fictional Gotham Times newspaper, the Gotham National Bank, the Gotham Police department, and even a grassroots organization trying to make Gotham safer.

The Dark Knight Unofficial Movie blog does an excellent job of detailing these and all of the other sites, including breaking down the secrets that are hidden there. For instance, it was on the Unofficial Movie blog that I learned about the new link from the Why So Serious site (a supposedly Joker run website) that points to a personality profiler.

Thanks to the quality of the first film, it's already a given that I will be paying good money to see the sequel this summer. So these sites aren't really needed to convince me to see The Dark Knight. None the less, I love that WB is building out all of these online games and sites. It makes the waiting for the new film a little more fun.

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

saturday evening post thanksgiving coverI found a whole bunch of Thanksgiving themed covers from the Saturday Evening Post, but I really thought this one was pretty neat.

I hope you have a complete Thanksgiving - watch football, eat a lot, bicker with family, and fall asleep early in the evening. It's what I plan on doing.

Heather and her mom will be waking up before dawn tomorrow morning to head out and fight with the other crazies to snag doorbuster deals and discounted items. I will staying home to watch cartoons with the kids.

November 21, 2007

When Can We Sing Christmas Carols?

The Family Circus' persistent pollyannaish, 1950's era view of the world means I have little interest in the comic.

But because of those traits the strip periodically shows up on The Comics Curmudgeon. Today's appearance was particularly funny, especially when you consider the Curmudgeon's comments:

family circus for 11.21.2007
"A good way to keep Dolly in line is to keep her ignorant of actual theology and just tell her that things that annoy you are sins that will damn her soul to hell for all eternity. Other sins in the Keane household: running in the house, staying up past eight o’clock, talking while mommy and daddy are trying to watch TV, and singing Christmas carols at any time."

Sound Asleep Pillow

This is going to the top of my Christmas list.
Sound Asleep Pillow:
an ingenious and deeply comfortable pillow that has buried deep within it a speaker. Inaudible to anyone except the dozer, the pillow has a phone jack at one end that will plug into your iPod/MP3 player, and plays your music gently through the pillow. Now your partner can sleep in peace, and you can listen to whatever you like!
Since marrying Heather I've had to give up listening to the radio when I drift off to sleep at night. The music bothers her. But here is the perfect way to have some tunes while I sleep again.

November 20, 2007

MC Mechanic

Found this photo via Boing Boing.

Thought this M.C. Escher inspired image looked fantastic. It's a great modern interpretation of Drawing Hands
MC MechanicThe artist is Shane Willis

A Salute To Our American Indians

To help us prepare for Thanksgiving, Polite Dissent provides a snappy little PSA from 1961 that ran in a number of DC Comics publications.

Click the snippet below to enjoy the full PSA.

snippet from Salute To Our American Indians
Wow. Different times.

The Kringle Is Coming!

O&H Danish Bakery

screen shot of the delivery status

November 19, 2007

Brillant Time Waster

Throwing a wad of paper into a trash can, while accounting for wind speed in the office.

I could play it all day. Simple and brillant.

300 - A Review

I finally got to watch 300 two weekends ago. Heather and I never got out to the theaters to catch it on the big screen this past spring, so Heather put our name on the waiting list when our local library received a copy for lending out. It was a popular movie at the library, so the wait was long; but our name came up about two weeks ago. Heather usually goes to the library every Monday to get new books, so that’s when she picked it up.

dvd cover artwork for 300That following weekend I watched the film twice. Once on Friday after Heather had fallen asleep and a second time on Saturday night when Heather watched it with me. Both times I was left with underwhelming since of “Ehhh.”

For all the press and excited write-ups I had read back in the spring, and being familiar with the Frank Miller’s graphic novel source material, I was expecting a lot more. Usually I do a good job of tempering my expectations for popular shows, movies, books, etc. I walk in with expecting one thing and the material either meets or in more pleasant situations exceeds them. But in this case I managed to fail myself. I was expecting big, bold, and bombastic but ended up with a fairly-entertaining film lacking an emotional punch.

To be certain, 300 is a visual feast. The film looks fantastic, especially when the influences from Miller’s book are obvious. The scenes of the young king battling the wolf, the Persian soldiers being pushed off the cliff, or of the remaining Spartan men hunkered down, forming a dome of shields as Xerxes comes for Leonidas’ surrender are spectacularly realized on the screen. But that’s all I was left with at the end of viewing the film both times – how great it looked. Not how great the actors were, or the dynamic storytelling, or the staging of the action sequences. I was impressed with how Director Jack Snyder had captured the look of Frank Miller’s book.

However I can’t help but wonder what my impression would have been if I hadn’t already read Miller’s original 300 three or four times. Would I have been more impressed with the movie? Would I have found the characters and story more compelling? Would I have noticed (as I did in Miller’s comic) that Leonidas and Xerxes have a tendency to talk to one another like New Jersey mobsters? These are questions I can never answer because I am familiar with the source material. So comparisons are inevitable. Try as I might to judge the film on its own merits, I can’t help but think back to Miller’s book and automatically set up a mental checklist to figure out where the film and the book match or diverge.

scan of Miller's art from 300Ultimately to understand where I stand on this movie, I have to compare my viewing experience of 300 with another recent adaptation of a Frank Miller comic, Sin City. Like Snyder, Director Robert Rodriguez did a beautiful job of capturing the look of Miller’s Sin City books. However, Rodriguez went further than just recreating a comic book; he brings cinematic life to Miller’s characters and stories. Even though I already knew the stories of Sin City, like I did with 300, I felt like I was seeing something new in the film version of Sin City. Rodriguez didn’t just re-create the comic for the silver screen; he adapted the comic for film.

This is where I think Snyder fails with 300. Ironically, for the movie version of 300 Snyder and his writers created a new subplot involving King Leonidas’ wife, Queen Gorgo, and her struggle with the Spartan Senate that did not exist in Miller’s book. And yet, the movie felt like a rehash of Miller’s comic book lacking an original voice. I didn’t see a fresh viewing point for approaching the source material. It was as if Snyder used Miller’s 300 comic as a storyboard for his film. I expected more.

Any successful artistic endeavor is created with the medium of delivery in mind. TV shows are developed and executed with the constraints of the medium in mind, the same for novels, movies, or comics. The creator works to express themselves through the medium and the success of that piece of art can be a result of the chosen medium as much as it is the artist’s vision and talent. 300 was originally developed as a comic. If you want to take that comic book and translate it to another medium, then you need to study the intent of the artist, find their motivation, and adapt it to the new medium you are recreating within. Robert Rodriguez was successful with the re-interpretation with Sin City, Zack Snyder falls short with 300.

November 16, 2007

Planning My PBS Viewing

It's pledge time at WTTW, Chicago's main public television station. Which means they will be trotting out the best of the best that PBS has to offer.

Two items in this week's WTTW programing announcement email that caught my attention:

wttw shows
Sure I'll have to sit through hyper-happy people begging me to send in money, but at least they are more honest and sincere than the marketing-madness commercials I would have to suffer through if I was watching The Office or Mad Men.

Plus, you can't find anything like Foods of Chicago on commercial television.

This Post Isn't Going Where You Think Its Going

Before the kids go to bed, they like to have either Heather or I sing them a song. (Even Ian, though I don’t think he would ever admit this to anyone other than Heather and I and he certainly wouldn’t let anyone other than Heather and I sing the song)

We gave up long ago on singing any sort of traditional songs. Now the kids suggest a topic and Heather and I have to make up a song on the spot. For Heather and I the singing improve is either exciting or annoying, depending on our mood and the topic.

Ian has taken the process a step further and will let Heather or I chose our own song topic, though he has the right to veto our selection. Heather tends to go with the safer topics, while I lean to the more obscure. “Cheddar is my favorite cheese” or “I wear socks on my ears because it scares the cat” are just a few samplings of my song styling skills.

The other night I launched into “We close our eyes when we sleep because it is dark out and there wouldn’t be anything to see anyway.” After finishing the song I had a thought, “Do blind people turn on lights in their house?”

I don't mean any disrespect, but it wasn’t something I had ever thought about before. If you are blind, why bother turning lights on in a room? It isn’t going to help you move around the room or find things more easily. A person robbed of their vision relies on their other senses and other means to navigate through the physical world.

This thought conjured the image in my head of a blind person coming home from work at night, moving about their apartment or house, making dinner, doing dishes, reading, whatever – all while the house remains completely pitch black inside. Factual or not, that image fascinated me.

For someone with no vision, there would be no light needed to aid seeing of things. Even if lights were turned on, how would the totally blind person know when the light bulbs burned out and needed replacing? For that matter, how would they know if the light was turned off or on? They could be flipping a switch every night when they come home and actually be turning the light off, when the light had been on all day while they were at work.

How would a blind person necessarily know when the power went out? I’m sure not hearing a radio or the computer not responding would be an indicator. But when the power comes back on, how are the alarm clocks reset? How do you know that you’ve set the clock to the right time?

I’m sure that there is technology today that allows someone who is blind to easily overcome these obstacles (i.e. 'talking' clocks), but I imagine things were more challenging twenty or thirty years ago. But those sorts of details are something I’d never considered before.

I often wonder what it would be like to be blind. I think most people still graced with their vision ponder about things like that. Mostly I’ve thought about all the activities or hobbies I wouldn’t be able to do and about how life changing losing my ability to see would be. But it wasn’t until singing Ian that goofy song that I thought about the little details of being blind. It made me appreciate more how much of our world is a visual world, and that there is so much of that visual world that people with sight take for granted.

November 14, 2007

Who Wants Ricky?

ricky williamsRicky Williams was reinstated by NFL today, so he's free to rejoin the team that currently holds the running back's contract - the 0-9 Miami Dolphins. But indications are that the Fins don't want Ganga Boy back on their squad. And that they might be looking to trade Ricky.

I said it once before, and I'll say it again, the Bears should make a serious play for Williams. He's a proven hard-hitting runner who, thanks to these suspensions, doesn't have a whole lot of mileage on his legs. The guy could still be very productive in this league.

Sure he's can't say "No" to a puff of the weed, but it's better than crashing your Lamborghini and then lying to police or building a personal armory of unlicensed weapons in your suburban home. Comparatively, a little recreation drug use seems down right civil.

In any case, Williams would be light years better than Cedric Ben-stopped again for a 1-yard loss. 76 yards against the Oakland Raiders? Pathetic.

Come on Jerry Angelo. Make the deal.

November 13, 2007

New Favorite Christmas Commercial

For years my favorite was the Norelco commercial with Santa riding in the electric shaver head like a sled, but now I think I have to give the crown to this AFLAC commercial - even if do find that duck unbelievably annoying. Luckily, he only shows up briefly at the end.

Fridge Issues

For the past few weeks Heather and I have noticed a growing rumble coming from our refrigerator. Whenever the appliance turns off after a cooling cycle, a horrible knocking/rattle noise can be heard coming from the bottom of the fridge.

During a free moment yesterday, I did some searching online to try and learn what might be the cause of our rumbley refrigerator. Searching on terms like “refrigerator rattle” and “refrigerator knocking” led me to some disturbing news. The knocking noise could be emanating from the compressor. Not a good thing.

picture of the inside of a refrigeratorOne site I read indicated that a knocking compressor might not be all bad, and that a simple solution could be making sure the coils are kept clean. Heather and I had cleaned under the fridge once or twice over the last year, but it was clearly still pretty messy down there. The previous owners of our house had a long-haired cat; and judging from the shape I’ve found some of the other parts of the house in, I don’t think appliance maintenance and cleaning was very high on their To-Do list.

Hoping to spare Heather and me the cost of a new compressor or even a new fridge, last night I set to task of seriously cleaning out the underside of the fridge. If all went well, the cleaned up coils would improve the efficiency of the appliance, put less stress on the compressor, and chase away the knocking.

At least that was the plan.

First I spent a hefty amount of time vacuuming under the fridge from the front using a bunch of great vacuum attachments we already had. When I started the coils and surrounding area were covered in cat hair and dust, but I was able to restore them to gleaming smooth blackness. I wasn’t able to reach all the way to the back of the fridge, so I attempted to pull the fridge out of its resting spot snuggled between our cabinets and the pantry.

Apparently this refrigerator had magically grown in this location many years ago; home builders stumbled upon it and constructed a house around the appliance. I don’t know how else to explain how tightly that frickin’ fridge was stuffed into the space in our kitchen. It was rubbing against the counter on the left, the wall on the right. It was even scraping the cabinets that bridged over the top of the fridge. It took me twice as long to pull the behemoth out into the middle of the kitchen then it did for me to clean it. And I think I pulled three muscles doing in the process.

I inspected the area behind the fridge and found it disgustingly dirty – but bone dry (this will be important later on). I abandoned my cleaning for awhile to let my arms rest and then returned to the fridge about fifteen minutes later. Now where the floor had been dry there was a growing puddle of water.

We have hardwood floors in our kitchen, so the sight of the expanding water on the floor gave me a good scare. If we don’t have money for a new fridge we certainly don’t have the cash for fixing a warped wood floor.

I grabbed all the towels that were handy and began mopping up the water. I then feverishly worked on removing the back panel from the fridge so that I might learn the source of the water. What I discovered was that the water line into the ice maker was spraying water right at the point of connection. Instead of wasting time trying to figure out how to tighten or correct this issue, I hurried down into the basement to locate the shut-off valve for the ice maker water supply line. I turned it as tight as it would go and shortly after the water stopped leaking from the fridge’s underside.

I finished my vacuuming and general cleaning up behind the fridge. I attempted to tighten the connection between the supply line and the ice maker, but when I turned the water back on the leaking started up again. So I shut everything down and put the fridge back in place. No more automatic ice and water dispensing for us.

burning moneyWhat baffles me is why the ice maker sprung a leak when it did? When I pulled the fridge out the floor and surrounding area was completely dry. Everything was fine. No water anywhere.

Because of how the fridge is constructed I wasn’t able to reach the ice maker from the front with my vacuum, so I’m confident I didn’t break it while cleaning the front of the fridge. But obviously something happened to the connection between the time I slide the fridge out and when I came back fifteen minutes later to clean. So if we didn’t have a true problem with the refrigerator before, we do now.

Then to add insult to injury, the fridge continues to make knocking sounds during compressor shut down. So all my cleaning, pulling, pushing, mopping, and water shutting off was for naught. It looks like another hit to Heather and my home equity line of credit may be in the future.

November 12, 2007

Football, Football, Football

It was an interesting weekend of football.

Pay close attention. I didn’t say it was an exciting weekend of football, though there were exciting games and plays to be seen. And I didn’t say it was a good weekend of football, because that would imply that I was happy with the quality of games I watched or the results of those contests. No, it was an interesting weekend of football.

notre dame v air forceCharlie Weis and the Notre Dame Floundering Irish sealed the deal on having the worse football season in the school’s storied history. I couldn’t find the stomach to watch most of the game, instead Heather and I kept checking in on the Irish during game breaks during the Ohio State – Illinois matchup.

When I was watching, there didn’t seem to be much to enjoy. Air Force moved the ball at will; the Irish were unable to sustain anything meaningful on offense. At this point in the season discussing the Irish’s pathetic play on the field sounds like a broken record. Injuries, inexperience, lack of talent – the cause could be all of those things. The source of the problem could even be with the coaching staff. Though I don’t believe Coach Weis’ job is in jeopardy.

First, he is Notre Dame alum, and I believe the University will give more leniency to one of their own. Two, his early success with the team grants him a little more time. Three, from what I’ve read the man is a recruiting machine. A number of the different college recruit evaluators have all commented on the strength of Weis recruiting classes and his approach to recruiting overall. So the future seems bright for the team. However, if two or three years from now the Irish faithful are watching another 1-9 team that is winless at Rockne Stadium, then none of those three reasons will save Weis’ job. As for now, we have to speculate on the talent and experience.

ohio state logoWhile I was avoiding watching another Notre Dame meltdown, I was afforded the opportunity to watch a meltdown of another type. Ohio State, the number one ranked team in the country, fell to the visiting Fighting Illini of Illinois.

Even though I grew up and now live in Illinois, I’ve never been much of an Illini football fan. I pull for their basketball team; but historically their football program hasn’t been much to talk about, so my interest in the gridiron version of the Illini has been small. South Bend has always seemed closer than Champaign, so factoring in my Irish Catholic upbringing, it’s always been the Fighting Irish for me.

illini winBut over the past few seasons a new coach, Ron Zook, and his recruiting prowess have started to build Illinois into a football team looking for more respect. Earlier this year they knocked off a highly ranked, and highly regarded, Wisconsin team, beat Penn State, they played Michigan closely on a nationally televised Saturday night game, and they have remained competitive and at the top of the standings in the Big Ten. But I don’t think anyone expected them to come into Columbus and hand the Buckeyes their first regular season loss in almost three years. But that’s what they did.

Since marrying Heather and living some time in Ohio, I have become a fan of Ohio State. The school has a strong football program headed up by Jim Tressel, a coach whom I hold a lot of respect for. I enjoy watching their teams play and especially have fun seeing them beat up on Michigan. However, on Saturday I couldn’t help but feel a little pride in seeing those Illinois helmets running around the Horseshoe, befuddling Ohio State defenders and securing a resounding victory. I know it was bandwagon fanish of me to do so, but I couldn’t help it.

Now following an Ohio State victory over Michigan and an Illini win over Northwestern, the Illini could finish tied for second in the Big Ten. Exciting stuff.

cleveland fails to convert the field goal with 11 seconds left in the gameSunday’s pro games were no less interesting. The Cleveland Browns – Pittsburgh Steelers game was a nationally televised game, so Heather and I got to watch Cleveland’s hot-handed QB Derrick Anderson take on the hated Steelers. The Browns are having a great season, which made this game, which has been a horrible mismatch since Cleveland had to hit the reset button on their football franchise in the late 1990’s, a fantastic match-up. Even though the Browns jumped out to a big lead, Ohio-native Ben Roethlisberger was able to rally his Steelers to win the game. It was a difficult loss, but I still love seeing the Browns be competitive, even if I don’t like the outcome.

I was living in Cleveland when owner Art Modell picked the team up and moved them to Baltimore in 1995, and grew to understand and appreciate the city’s pain over losing their football team. The Cleveland Browns are how Cleveland defines themselves. They may love their Indians and go crazy for their Cavaliers, but deep down Cleveland is a football city. It was great when the city got a Browns team again; which they have embraced enthusiastically. It has been a difficult road for the new team, but you get the feeling that they may finally have the right management, coaching, and talent to start building towards something bigger than an also-ran in the AFC North division.

rex to the rescueAnd how about those Bears? That was some of the worst three quarters of football I have ever seen. The play on the field matched what you would expect from two teams coming into the game with losing records. 3-3 at the half? 6-3 (in favor of the Raiders) at the end of the third quarter? And Devin Hester was trying way too hard on his punt and kick returns. The Raiders were playing inspired special team coverage. Don’t get all fancy with switchbacks and redirects. Run forward and hope for some blocks and bad tackles. I was too disgusted to be bored with the game, but I stuck through it.

Then Rex reminded us all why we were so in love with him a year ago. He has the ability to step out on the field and completely light the place up. Before his touchdown strike to Bernard Berrian, Grossman had gone down the field a couple of times (once even over-throwing a speeding Hester) but without the same end result. Grossman likes to air the ball out. Go for the big strike. I know it can get him into trouble, but damn if it isn’t exciting to watch.

berrian scores the touchdownSo while Grossman was redeeming himself by leading the Bears to victory, Cedric Benson revealed that he just isn’t the sort of runner the Bears need. The Oakland Raiders have one of the worst run defenses in the league. Still, Benson was barely able to squeak out 76 yards on the ground. The crew FOX had calling this game was horrible, but they did point out something that I hadn’t noticed about Benson’s running style – the guy runs all tippy-toe to the line of scrimmage. Benson doesn’t run up to the line, look for his hole, and try to muscle his way through. He dances before he even gets there. How are you going to get any power to your stride if you aren’t extending yourself when you prepare to hit the line? The guy’s a certified bust.

Does one game of “Good Rex” mean that the season can be salvaged? I don’t know. I do know that I find a game with Rex behind center more exciting to watch than one with him on the bench. Let’s look and see what the rest of the season brings.

November 08, 2007

November 06, 2007

It's My Birthday, I'll Blog If I Want To

Today's my birthday.

I'm 35 years-old now.

I've already received some gifts, which I am always thankful for. Heather's parents sent me money, as did my Aunt Kathy. Money is always a welcome present. Not as exciting as receiving an actual item, but the potential for new things that the cash represents is fun. What's difficult is making sure that some, if not most, of the cash gift goes towards some sort of gift-like item and not to pay off that month's water bill.

The cash gift is a school of thought my father has never bought into. He believes giving cash is too impersonal, and loathes the giving of gift cards. So that's why he will always drag himself out to the stores and malls in search of tangible, physical gift to present to someone on the birthday/Christmas/graduation/etc.

Of course, sometimes that means you end up holding a DVD Rewinder on your birthday. Which I'm sure sounded practical to my father while standing in the middle of Costco on a rainy Saturday afternoon. In hindsight it probably wasn't one of the most memorable gift ideas that he had. Then again, maybe it was.

This year he did much better – a smart looking leather jacket in a sort of caramel brown color. It's a nice change of pace from all of the black coats that seem to fill up my closet. I'm really thankful that my Dad took the time to hunt out a gift that he thought I could use and enjoy. But any feeling of uniqueness soon dissolved shortly after unwrapping the gift when my Dad announced that he like the jacket so much that he not only went ahead and bought versions of the garment for my brother and brother-in-law as early Christmas gifts, he got a jacket for himself. It must have been one hell of a sale.

(We're all going to attend a Blackhawks game together this winter while wearing our matching coats. I expect to be mugged in the parking lot by a gang of fourth grade girls.)

My brother, always the creative type, arranged for a few of his past girlfriends to pose in bikinis on some warm sandy beach and snapped some photographs of them. He tells me that the girls had gotten creative with masking tape and sunscreen, and that if I stare closely I can read "Happy Birthday Big Brother" spelled across the ladies tanned and toned stomachs.

the girls wishing me a happy birthday
Unfortunately he failed to send me the high-resolution image so I will have to take his word on it.

a sleepy kittyMy sister's gift was odd. She sent me a picture of this kitten, asleep in its food. Her rationale, and I quote, "You're too moody and angry. What you need is more ‘cute' in your life. Here's a start. Happy Birthday!"

I need more "cute" in my life? Has my sister not been paying attention when my kids are around? I live in the same house as Zoe McKillip. I am surrounded by so much cute that I could pass out at any given moment. If anything, I could use a little less cute right now. It's because of the insane amount of cuteness that inundates me on daily basis that I continue to watch Notre Dame play football on Saturday and the Bears play football on Sunday. I have got to counteract the cute.

zoe is always cute
Heather and the kids have not given me a present for my birthday. The kids have been good about not giving me any clues, which in the past usually took the shape of, "We might have gotten you a DVD that you'll want to watch with us because it's a cartoon about Bat- errr – a superhero that you really, really, like a lot."

Of course, Ian is mildly obsessed with the fact that LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga drops today – the same day as his Dad's birthday. For the last two weeks Ian hasn't been able to mention my birthday without clarifying that it's the same day as the new LEGO Star Wars games hits stores. So even if he wanted to give me a hint as to my gift, by the time he starts thinking about my birthday his brain becomes overwhelmed by the potential of obtaining a new Star Wars game for his Nintendo DS at some time in the future. The two events have become hopeless intertwined in his young, eight year-old brain. I imagine the commentary inside of his head goes something like this:

cover art for lego star wars for the ds"Hey, we're talking about Dad's birthday. It's only X days away. I could tease him a bit with a hint about the . . . hey, wait a minute. That's the same day LEGO Star Wars is in stores! Maybe I can get that game! Let's talk about that!"

And it's not just the lack of cryptic clues that have kept my birthday gift a secret, Emma ended up in charge of hiding the present. The kids and I returned home from some shopping Saturday while Heather was helping at Market Day when we saw a package on the front stoop. I stated that the package was probably my gift, recently arrived in the mail and waiting to be taken inside. I also remarked to the children that their Mom would probably not want me to know what was inside the box. Emma took that as her cue to snatch the package and seek out a secure hiding place within the house.

The hiding process took her nearly ten minutes, so I was expecting an elaborate hiding configuration involving doors, boxes, secret buttons, and decoys. What I discovered, by accident, that her hiding techniques really hadn't changed much from when it was her job to hide Heather's Mother's Day gift.

Which leaves my Mom. I know she's getting me something because she asks slightly more frequently than my Father about what I would like for my birthday. Starting around October 1 and on until the beginning of November, any time they see my face, hear my voice, or remember my email address the question gets popped. Of course I can never offer any good suggestions, I'm usually thinking about how we're going to pay the kids' tuition, carpet cleaning, exterior painting, and a basement rehab. Not about a nice-to have for myself. Inevitably they ask Heather for ideas, but she's can't get them from me so she isn't any help to them.

My Mom, like my Dad, shuns the cash gifts, though she is known to augment a present with a small gift card from time to time. However, in her quest for tangible gifts she has a tendency to forget what she's already bought for people or which gift is for who after she's wrapped them and failed to label them. So you can either end up with a box of underwear intended for your sister or something like the present I received last year.

In the end I don't care so much about what, if anything, I get for my birthday. A good birthday is about finding extended time doing whatever it is I want, eating some good food, and letting myself get caught up in the excitement the kids bring to a birthday celebration. I’m not much of a birthday guy, but I can help but feel a twinge of excitement when Ian, Emma and Zoe are talking about my birthday everyday (even if Ian can’t do so without mentioning LEGO Star Wars). Tonight I will have fun with Heather and the kids celebrating, and I have no doubt Heather will prepare good things to eat. The only thing missing will be the time to sit around and do nothing. I had to go to work today. Two out of three ain’t bad.

November 02, 2007

It's a Race to Yuletime Music

From today's Chicago Tribune
Clear Channel's adult-contemporary outlet WLIT-FM 93.9, which appeared poised to begin its annual tradition of airing weeks of Christmas music on Nov. 9, instead made the switch this morning, presumably to counter CBS Radio's WCKG-FM 105.9's plan to launch into Christmas programming later in the day.

Word began leaking out Thursday that WCKG, which has been airing nothing but Jack FM-bound Steve Dahl since Monday as a prelude to a format change, would move to Christmas music after Dahl's final shift on the station en route to mornings on CBS sister station WJMK-FM 104.3, beginning at 5:30 a.m. this Monday.

For WCKG, the switch to holiday songs, more than seven weeks before Santa is set to make his deliveries, would serve a dual purpose. It not only is meant to cleanse palates from the FM talk to which WCKG listeners have become accustomed, it's also intended as a shot across the bow of WLIT.
It's madness

Father and Son Star Wars Fun

I’ve given my brother-in-law some grief on the blog because of his irrational fear of the suburbs and his misguided support of that other baseball team in Chicago. To be sure, he wins points for acting as a buffer for my brother and I against my sister’s various paranoia and cat stories, but that doesn’t cancel out the fact that the guy once told me he thought Dennis Kucinich was the “level-headed, dynamic leader that could remake America into a thriving utopia.”

But now I might be able to overlook that flaw as well.

sw: where science meets imaginationAbout two weeks ago I received an email from my sister. Patrick had been invited to a party at the Museum of Science and Industry to celebrate the opening of the Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit and was wondering if I (or anyone else in my family) would be interested in attending. Heather had first brought this traveling exhibit to my attention about two months ago; so not only did I know all about it, but I was planning on taking Ian to see it as a father-son outing this winter. I mean really, the Museum of Science and Industry AND Star Wars – that is something I couldn’t skip.

While I was all set to take off a day of work so Ian and I could visit the exhibit during the week and away from the busy weekend hours, Patrick was now providing me an opportunity to view the exhibit as part of an exclusive invite-only group. We wouldn’t be able to spend time exploring the other parts of this great Chicago museum, but at least we could spend time in the Star Wars exhibit sans big crowds and lengthy lines.

Needless to say, Ian was excited about attending the event. A trip down into the city is always exciting, visiting one of the museums is always high on Ian’s to-do list, and the kid loves Star Wars about as much as I do. After watching the depressing defeat of the Bears at the hands of the visiting Detroit Lions, he and I jumped in the car and made the trip up I-55 to the Museum of Science and Industry.

Ian in PerilFrom the invite I knew that event was going to be structured around the theme of a Halloween party. Kids were encouraged to wear costumes (though Ian opted to remain dressed in regular clothes). What I didn’t expect was how big the party would actually be. After letting us in to the main floor of the museum, we all made our way up to the space under the museum’s rotunda. For the event the museum had hired a dozen or so people to dress up as characters from the Star Wars movies. Some costumes were better than others, but it really made things fun to see Darth Vader or C-3PO just walking around. They also made for some great photo opportunities.

There were four spreads of food laid out. Mostly kid friendly to be sure (chicken fingers and mini-hot dogs wrapped in a tiny croissant), but they had lots of fruit, veggies, and some more tasteful wrap sandwiches for the grown-ups in the crowd.

There were a number of bartenders set up through-out the floor. All serving beer, wine, some mixed drinks, pop, milk, and juice boxes. Later there was a dessert. And there were plenty of tables and chairs spread about to accommodate everyone who was in attendance.

Ian loaded up his plate with chicken and mini-hot dogs, and after grabbing a couple of cups of Pepsi, settled into a table inside the MSI’s train exhibit area – the only non-Star Wars exhibit area that was open to the party. MSI has a famously large and meticulously detailed model train setup. And for a train lover like Ian, it made for the perfect setting to sit and eat before exploring the Star Wars exhibit. In fact, we almost – almost – spent as much time in the train exhibit as we did in the Star Wars exhibit.

Millennium FalconAs for the Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit, it was fantastic. There was a nice mix of models and props from all six of the Star Wars films along with great interactive sections were we could drive a hovercraft, design a city of the future, or build our own robot before programming it to accomplish a task. Ian loved the hands on sections of the exhibit. I gravitated to the models and props to marvel at the detail and craftsmanship. In fact, one of the more memorable moments of the night for me occurred while taking a photo of the huge Millennium Falcon model that was on display (the model was probably about four feet long by three feet wide). After shooting my picture, I couldn’t help but notice that even though there were kids everywhere in the exhibit, there weren’t a whole lot of youngsters over where the models were on display. In fact, at the Millennium Falcon model it was me and four other guys – all roughly my age – all staring at the ship behind the glass. You could tell we were all thinking the same thing, “That would look so cool hanging in my house.”

I mean really, it’s the Millennium Falcon. Easily the coolest spaceship ever.

Ian and I had a spectacular time looking at everything, building things, and looking at things again. It really was a great evening. Another memorable moment of the night happened when we were walking out of the exhibit for the first time. Ian and I had just spent about 40 minutes absorbing everything we could about Star Wars and was chattering away. We turn the corner and discover that the exit from the exhibit takes you through a well-stocked gift shop full of Star War paraphernalia.

Ian stops talking for a second, take a hard look at the shop area, turns to me and says excitedly, “And they even have a gift shop!!”

(Yes, I bought him something.)

Ian Programs His RobotBecause of time constraints and a little bad planning, Ian and I did not get a chance to sit in the Millennium Falcon cockpit replica. I was a little disappointed at first, but when I realized how much fun I had had – both looking at all the Star Wars stuff and just hanging out with Ian – it really didn’t bother me anymore.

It was just a great evening from start to finish. While I know Ian and I would have enjoyed a regular visit to the MSI and the Star Wars exhibit, thanks to Patrick’s invitation the trip turned into a wonder experience.

If you are so inclined, I've got a bunch more photos of Ian and my trip to the Museum of Science & Industry's Star Wars exhibit in a Flickr set.

The Trouble With Wives

Today's Wondermark illustrates why husbands can never have their wives around when they are telling a story.

11.02.2007 wondermark comic

Because Reading is Mother F#*kin' Fundamental!

You must go read.

samuel jackson's reading list

November 01, 2007

Halloween 2007 Photos

Had a great night of trick-or-treating. Emma transformed from being a Princess at school to a Witch before she went out trick-or-treating. Not only did she pull together a great costume with items she found in her closet, it was a much warmer costume to wear outside.

Zoe was the hit of the neighborhood. We couldn't go more than five minutes without someone shouting, "Hey Scooby!!" All three of them collected more candy than I thought possible.

I'm a Witch

The Gang

Happy Trick-or-Treaters

Our Pumpkins

The kids took a dinner break between trick-or-treating sessions - yes, Heather and I make them eat some real food on Halloween night. Grandpa stopped by wearing his freaky-ass Albert Einstein mask and bearing gifts of M&Ms and chocolate suckers from Fannie May. We watched a little of the Scary Godmother animated movies on Cartoon Network. I ate candy liberally from Heather's bucket of candy for trick-or-treaters at our house.

It was a good time.

Oh, Pancho! - Oh, Ditka!

While I was watching the Bears’ embarrassing play against the Lions this past Sunday, Heather wandered in and noticed a Mike Ditka – John Elway commercial that was airing.

"Wow," she says, "Ditka will sell anything."

(By the way, whenever Heather says "Ditka" or "Mike Ditka", she pronounces it like one of the Superfans from the SNL skit years ago even though she’s a native Ohioan. It’s one of the reasons I love her.)

“He doesn’t surprise me anymore,” I replied while trying to wipe the image of another Griese end zone interception from my mind.

“Really? I saw something in today’s paper with Ditka that I bet might surprise you.”

“When it comes to whoring yourself for an advertising dollar, Ditka jumped the shark when he became the spokesman for that Viagra competitor.”

Heather leaves the room and returns with a Sunday flyer for Walmart or Meijer. She flips open to a page and then shows me this:

Mike Ditka wants you to buy his salsa
Iron Mike has got his own salsa now. Of course he wants us to buy it, so he has decided to lend his smiling mug to the packaging and advertising.

In case anyone forgets that salsa is associated with Mexican cuisine and assumes that if Ditka is selling something edible than the food probably contains some form of pork and is a Midwest regional delicacy, he dresses himself up like the Cisco Kid.

I’m sure Ditka had fun with the whole thing, but Heather was right, it did surprise me. And I guess even his advertising scheme is working; I want to give the salsa a try.